Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects “qualified” individuals against discrimination in employment on the basis of disability. The ADA covers private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers, employment agencies, and labor unions. A “qualified” employee is one who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, could perform the essential functions of that job. The ADA also protects an employee who is related to or closely associated with a person who has a disability and applicants for employment.
What is a “disability” under the ADA?
The ADA has three legal categories of “disability.” The first category refers to employees or prospective employees who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A major life activity generally refers to walking, breathing, talking, seeing, hearing, performing manual tasks, and so forth. A second category covers employees or prospective employees who have a record of such impairment. This would include individuals recovering from a serious illness such as cancer or mental illness. Employees or prospective employees who are regarded as having such a disability and treated accordingly fall into the final category of legal disability.
What employment practices are covered?
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in such employment practices as hiring, firing, promotions, pay, tenure, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. It restricts what questions a prospective employer may ask during the hiring process, including questions about the nature and severity of the disability. A prospective employer may ask, however, about the employee’s ability to perform specific job functions.
What must the employer do for the disabled employee?
First, the employer must know of the employee’s disability. This means the employee or prospective employee must inform the employer of the disability, usually while requesting that a reasonable accommodation be made. Second, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow a person with a disability to perform the essential job functions of that position. A reasonable accommodation can include restructuring a job, modifying the work schedule, job reassignment, and other adjustments to enable the disabled individual to perform the job.
Are there limits to reasonable accommodations?
Under the ADA, an employer must make a reasonable accommodation for the disabled employee or prospective employee UNLESS doing so would cause an undue hardship on the operation of the employer. An accommodation is unreasonable, then, in light of factors such as expense, structure and size of the employer, and difficulty in enacting the accommodations. The ADA also does not require an employer to make the employee’s preferred accommodation. If the employer’s accommodation is reasonable and allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the job then the employer has met its obligations under the law.
What actions can an employee or prospective employee take if the ADA has been violated?
The employee or prospective employee must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the discrimination OR 300 days if the complaint is filed with a designated state agency. For Missouri, the applicable state agency is the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). Filing with the state agency “dual files” with the EEOC; the employee does not need to file the complaint again with the EEOC. After filing, the employee must follow the applicable agency’s judicial process in order to receive a “right to sue” letter for state or federal court.
For more information on the ADA, visit http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-ada.cfm.